If you need to use a leaf blower beyond 150 feet from an electrical outlet, experts say handheld gas-powered blowers are usually best. They deliver enough power for normal yard work (more than a cordless electric blower, usually), and they cost much less than heavy-duty backpack blowers.
The Stihl BG 55 (*Est. $150) impresses experts the most. It beats seven other handheld gas leaf blowers in a Popular Mechanics' test, and it's unsurpassed in another test at scouring leaf bits out of the turf and sweeping piles of leaves.
The Stihl is lightweight, too (just 9 pounds), and it's actually fairly quiet as gas leaf blowers go -- from "neighbor distance" anyway (50 feet). It's quite loud next to your ears, though, so experts say you definitely should wear ear protection.
The only real drawback? Some owners find the Stihl BG 55 tricky to start. The similar Stihl BG 56 C-E (*Est. $190) adds an "Easy2Start" feature.
The Echo PB-250LN (*Est. $170) draws more complaints about starting problems, relegating it to runner-up status. It's also a little heavier (nearly 10 pounds) and has a couple of ergonomic quirks (like its upside-down purge bulb) that some reviewers find awkward.
On the plus side, the Echo matches the Stihl's leaf-blowing prowess, and it carries a longer warranty (five years versus two). It has fewer owner reviews, though, so it's hard to judge how it holds up in real-life use.
Two more handheld gas blowers -- the Husqvarna 125B (*Est. $145) and Hitachi RB24EAP (*Est. $140) -- blow leaves just as effectively, but owners repeatedly report breakdowns with these machines. Owner reviews contain reports of both suffering from broken fuel lines or clogged carburetors. Husqvarna blames the ethanol in most modern gasoline for tearing up the fuel system, and owners say their repairs weren't covered under warranty as a result.